July 23, 2013

No more one-man crews on oil trains, Canada says

The order applies to trains carrying hazardous cargo like the one operated by a Maine rail company that crashed, killing 47.

By Tom Bell tbell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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In a July 9, 2013 file photo workers comb through debris after a run away oil train derailed July 6, 2013 causing explosions, fire and destoying parts of Lac-Megantic, Quebec. Canadian transportation authorities banned one-man crews for trains with dangerous goods Tuesday, July 23, 2013, responding to calls for tougher regulations after the oil train derailment in Quebec killed 47 people. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson)

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In this July 6 photo, flames and smoke rise from railway cars that were carrying crude oil after derailing in downtown Lac Megantic, Quebec, Canada, devastating the downtown and killing 47.


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The Montreal, Maine & Atlantic is the only Maine railroad that uses one-person crews, said Chalmers "Chop" Hardenbergh of Freeport, who publishes Atlantic Northeast Rails & Ports, a trade publication.

In the U.S., there are no specific regulations requiring a certain number of crew members, but the use of a one-person crew is "very rare" because it's difficult to comply with other federal safety rules with only one person on a train, said Rob Kulat, a spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration. He said the vast majority of railroads in the industry use a two-person crew.

If a train backs up, for example, someone must protect the rear of the train and signal the engineer that everything is clear. That person is usually the second crew member, Kulat said.

Some smaller railroads with slow-moving trains post the second crew member in a company truck that follows the train, he said.

Alan Irving, a Falmouth resident who has worked overseas to restructure rail systems and infrastructure for the private sector and the World Bank, said he was surprised to learn that the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway has been allowed to operate trains carrying flammable cargo through the state with a one-person crew.

"The engineer needs the support of an operating assistant, while both running and shutting down, to run his train safely," Irving said.

Because freight train crew size is "completely unregulated" at the federal level, Pierce said, "railroads will do whatever maximizes profit."

Pierce compared the train disaster in Lac-Megantic with the collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh in May that killed more than 1,100 workers.

"We are doomed to endure more unnecessary tragedy in the future so long as government fails to fulfill its responsibility to the safety of workers and the public," he said.

The Canadian government on Tuesday also prohibited the practice of leaving trains with dangerous cargo unattended on a main track, and ordered railroads to prevent unauthorized entry into the locomotive cab on such trains, according to the Canadian Press.


Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:


Twitter: TomBellPortland

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Today's poll: Train crews

Should rail operators be required to have at least two crew members on board freight trains?



View Results